Hill Life: Assertiveness and the "B-word"

A few months ago, we had a spirited discussion about embracing the B-word.  I fell into the Tina Fey school of thought (“B*tches get stuff done.”), believing that, most of the time, if someone breaks out the b-word, it’s because I’m standing up for myself. Others were reticent to embrace the word, and wondered if there were a way to be assertive and avoid it all together.

Enter, Jezebel and their article, “How to Quit Worrying About Being Bitchy and Actually Assert Yourself.”

My favorite advice in the post dealt with challenging your perception about what is “nice,” and not putting your desire to avoid confrontation ahead of your needs.

It can also lead to relationship problems. You may think you’re being nice by keeping your emotions to yourself, but you’re also depriving the people around you of the opportunity to know how you’re feeling. People who care about you — partners, friends, family members, etc. — don’t want to unintentionally bug you or make you feel bad. Nor do they deserve the simmering resentment you may start to feel if you never speak up. So while being assertive about your own needs may seem like a more confrontational choice in the short term, in the long term it can actually be the loving thing to do. Also, remember that a lot of prohibitions against women’s assertiveness are rooted in sexism.

The article had some good tips for women in the workplace and outside of it.  I may not be the best advisor on this subject because my first instinct is usually to shoot from the hip without regard for the perceptions of others.  But I’m improving on that front as I age, not so much because I care about being called a bitch, but because I’m learning other ways to communicate in the workplace.  You can read more about those, here.

You can also look into Lois Frankel’s Book, Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It. I haven’t read it, yet, but it’s on my bedside table.


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  1. MegamiTenchi says:

    Something I know I really need to work on! Thank you for sharing this. I'm so good at worrying about others that I don't think of myself at all. I think I have a new book to check out _ You're an inspiration, thank you for being you!

    January 25, 2012/Reply
  2. ElleB says:

    I've been in a professional working environment for less than five years, and one of the only things my supervisor (who is man, but also super awesome) told me I need to fix and/or work on was not interrupting in meetings. Usually the people I'm in meetings with are “customers” from within my company; I find and/or make solutions and/or upgrades and improvements. More often than not, I am the only woman in the meeting, and usually I find I'm 15-20+ years younger than all the other participants.

    I may have a problem with “interrupting” the customer, and it's something I've actively addressed per my supervisor, but it's frustrating because if I don't interrupt, I can never get a word in edgewise. I'm usually never addressed directly (I'm usually the lead on the project; they should) – they usually address my supervisor, if present, or my co-worker (older male, also awesome). I don't think it's intentional, which is why I don't feel actively discriminated against on any front, but it's definitely hard to find that balance. (Fortunately, after having worked with me for a time and coming to realize I'm competent at my job and will be the one they have contact with, I usually have none of these problems, and in fact, have a difficult time getting them to contact my group as a whole instead of just me when they need something in my field).

    Needless to say, I've just found that being a young woman who cares about grooming and looking nice in a male dominated field in a still-good-ole-boy male dominated industry, makes first meets … challenging.

    January 25, 2012/Reply
  3. To ElleB says:


    Have you said something like “I understand your concerns. In order for the customer to take advantage of our (good/services), as project lead I should have an active role in meetings. How do you suggest we address this so I can actively contribute in the best way for our customers and our business?”

    January 26, 2012/Reply